Monday, June 27, 2011

Beach House by Jolee Akins

At the end of the school year one of my favorite things is going through all the girls' papers from the year. They like to throw most of it out. But sometimes you find a treasure worth keeping. Yesterday Jolee showed me a story she wrote about our trip to the beach with 4 other families last September. I think it's worth sharing.

Beach House by Jolee Akins

On Thursday the 30th of September me and my family went to a beach house. We went to have fun.  We went to the beach house outside of Walport.

First, I had to get packed. Me and my family were going to stay there for three days. I could not wait! I did not go to school on Thursday because we went that day at 1:45pm, but we wished to go on Thursday at 1pm, so we got there a little late.

Now, when packing was done it was time to go to the awesome beach house. I can't remember how long it took us to get there, but what I did know was that we were headed to the beach where the beach house was standing tall. It did take us a long time to get there.

Now after I think 2 and a half or 3 hours, we arrived at the beach house. I was so amazed! I could not believe my eyes. This house was awesome. It had 5 terraces that I could see. The beach was just off the house! You could go down some stairs and walk on a patio and down more stairs and you're on the beach!

Where I slept was on a different part of the house. I was above the garages and which the kids called the play room, because there was a big TV, an Air Hockey game, and a Foosball table.

One day we were on the beach and we were playing circle tag. The game was fun. My dad made the game on the beach. One person was it (it's like tag except it's a circle and you can't go off the lines) and trying to get you, if you get touched you are it.

One day before dinner all the kids went into the hot tub. The hot tub was on a terrace. When the kids (and me) were in the hot tub (parents were out there too) somebody locked us out! But luckily someone was inside! It was a boy (parent). He came and unlocked the door, and we got back in safely. When we were in the hot tub the wave came up far enough, and it washed away the circle tag game!

One night I was scared, because where me and my family slept was in a different part of the beach house. So my mom gave me her iPhone to play with. An iPhone is a phone except it is touch. I played different games, and some more than once. One game is where you have to cut a rope and try to get candy and put in a frogs mouth. This game is called "Cut the Rope."

Once while eating dinner, a wave went so far up! It went all the way up to some rocks. (Which was just a little off the house.) Every kid at the table turned around (if they were facing the wrong way) and stared at the window and out to the wave. Some kids went outside and I did too, but my dad said, "Jolee!  No! Come back inside now!" So I did and had to go back to eat. That wave was the biggest wave I have ever seen!

Now the last thing I want to share with you. One night before dinner we had a dance party night! We also did the limbo. First we did a dance party. There were at least 5 families there, but maybe more. Matt (a kid's dad in one family) danced really weird. He danced crazy, I tried to ignore it but that didn't work! So I just stared at him. Then I started to dance. This is how I danced some times: here Jolee has a picture of herself flopping her arms up and down and jumping. I just kept doing that until I got bored of it. Then we did limbo. The limbo is when 2 people hold up a pole (at least 3 feet long) and people try to go under it without touching the pole. You have to do it like this: You bend back your body, and go under the pole, and try not to touch the pole with any part of your body.

Now all the fun is done and time to leave. We went back to the place where we slept and we got all packed and ready to go. I did not want this time to come, but it had come. Now walking out of the beach house. Got the bags in the trunk. I got to go home with a family that also was at the beach house with us. They are the Brown family. These are their kids and parents names: Jolene (mom), Aaron (dad), Ryan (boy kid), Tyler (boy kid), Aiden (boy baby), Anna (3 year old girl). I got to go home with them because I am FRIENDS with Ryan. We watched a movie on the way home. We watched Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

Me and my family went home with a lot of good memories.
Beach House memories with the Cummings, Brown, Moore, Foster, and Akins  Families

Friday, June 24, 2011

From Start to Finish

Today I'm celebrating finishing well. Vacation Bible School officially registered 220 children. I was planning for a registration total of about 160. Finding volunteers is always a challenge. This week over 80 youth and adults made it their mission to serve kids. Our theme was God's Faithfulness, and was He ever! Everywhere I looked at VBS (once I got done making more name tags each day) I saw the evidence of God's faithful hand at work. We often think of VBS as large group controlled chaos. However, some of the sweetest moments are the ones where I witnessed individual "lifeguards" ministering to individual children: A Bible story in the hall when the large group was too overwhelming, hand-in-hand to the office to call home when a 4-year-old his missed mama, carrying a child to the car when an ankle twisted during recreation, and help making a craft project a success no matter how slippery that stretchy string. God was gracious to put me in just the right place at just the right time during the week to capture these tender demonstrations of His love. I'll keep the memories in my heart and hopefully be able to recall them next time I need reassurance of his faithfulness.  God loves children and that was incredibly evident during Beach Blast 2011.
Beach Blast 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Responsibility Is Overrated

VBS begins in 5 days. For those of you who have ever planned a VBS, you know what I'm talking about... It's just enough time to get things wrapped up and ready or to have a major freak out. With God's grace, I'm on the "let's get it wrapped up" plan. In the midst of final VBS prep, I'm also working on Girls Camp  and my regular duties as pastor of children and family ministries. It's a busy time. As the rest of the world seems to be celebrating the end of school, vacation plans, and the glory of a simpler summer schedule, each day I sense the list of responsibilities growing. I wake up with a choice: grumpy or grateful. What are people going to see on my face today. I have to admit, I'm sure it's a little of both. As deeply grateful that I am for the responsibilities I've been entrusted with, there are moments when I simply want to dump it all and head for some place tropical with absolutely nothing to control but the application of my sunscreen. (Every two hours, at least 15 SPF-and remember there is no such thing as waterproof.)

If you know me, you know I love control. Planning, preparing, and praying are the three "p's" that make me giddy. However, it's really not all about me. Every day God reminds me of how little I can do, and how much he has to do in order to keep the world spinning. And quite frankly "my" VBS, Girls Camp, Sunday school, or any of the other ministries that I'm in charge of aren't mine. They are God's. We write and teach what we need to hear for ourselves don't we?

I've been known to say, "responsibility is overrated." I think those words usually come out of my mouth when I'm so tired from the details, meetings, questions, and pressure of always planning for the next event, program, class, etc. But today I understand this phrase in another way. Perhaps a kinder, gentler, less aggravated, and exhausted way. I need to add the word "my" to the phrase. My responsibility is overrated. For in my own selfish mind, my bloated ego, and inflated sense of necessity, it's easy for me to believe that if I don't achieve the goal, who will? My responsibility is overrated. God's is not. His responsibility is beyond comprehension. So the next time I get caught up in being the hands and feet of Jesus...remind me: My responsibility is overrated.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hosting the Holy Ghost

Today a friend of mine wrote a piece on hospitality. She said she was a "reluctant hostess." This evening as I was cleaning up our kitchen in anticipation of the dinner we'll have with friends tomorrow,  I began wondering why do people find the motivation to tidy up when company's coming? Hospitality is definitely one of God's gifts. Some people seem to have it, some not so much. I'm in the "not so much" category. I do my best. I like to clean up, make a meal, and sometime I even light candles! But when it comes to hosting...you can call me an "anxious hostess." By the time company arrives, I'm usually so worked up from all the preparations, I have a difficult time being fully present with my guests. I'm definitely more Martha than Mary.

What if the way we welcome our guests is the way we welcome the Holy Spirit? What if the manner in which we prepare for company is similar to the way we accept Christ in our lives? Perhaps in your life you don't see any parallels. I think I've found a few in mine:


  • I love to serve. When I'm "doing" I feel like I'm being obedient to the Most High God I love.
  • Sitting and being still with The Holy Spirit is fine...for a few minutes. I want to listen, but come on H.S., hurry it up just a bit; we've got stuff to do together.
  • I find motivation to do just about any activity if I feel it has eternal purpose and serves God's children.
  • I trust God. I think I do. I want to. 
  • I don't clean up anything in my life to look good for others. I clean up out of respect for what I have and what I've been given.
  • I hope my home and my heart is a sanctuary that others can enjoy without clutter, confusion, or conflict.
  •  I'm working on it. I mean, I'm letting Jesus work on it...."Ahem, Jesus, I see a little mess over here you missed. Would you like me to get that?"
How do you host the Holy Ghost?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I Love You The Pinkest

Tonight I was digging through the filing cabinet trying to find Brynn's immunization record for her camp application and I found a little book I'd written for my girls way back in October, 2001. It's my own version of  the children's story "I Love You The Purplest." My life looked a lot different back in 2001. I was a woman who loved her children, but didn't really love God, my husband, or myself to the extent that I do now. I had not fully turned my life over to Christ. Reading this story ten years later brings back an ache in my heart for what could have been. It's not good to live life focusing on regrets. But I do see value in revisiting history (especially the sweet parts) and celebrating how far God has taken me.

Here's an unedited snippet of my life from a decade ago:

I Love You The Pinkest, by Michelle Akins

Mommy and her two beautiful daughters went out one fall evening for a walk. They loved to go up and down the sidewalks of their neighborhood. The evening air was cool and breezy. Mommy and her girls had sweatshirts on to keep them snuggly during their walk.

Brynn the eldest daughter was four and a half years old. She loved to walk out in front of the stroller, sometimes running or skipping. She liked to pop in and out of the stroller whenever she needed to rest, especially if she got a cramp in her side after a long run.

Tonight Brynn skipped and sang as Mommy pushed baby Jolee down the sidewalk. Jolee was eight months old and thought her big sister was the best entertainment in the world. Mommy smiled as Jolee giggled and screeched watching Brynn skip.

Soon Brynn was ready for a ride in the big double stroller. Her seat was up front. Jolee sad in back gazing at trees and neighborhood children playing in the pleasant evening. Brynn stopped singing and asked, "Mommy, who do you love the best?"

Mommy thought for a second and then said, "Brynn, I love you the reddest. I love you the color of a bright red balloon flying high in the sky, the fiery red of the setting sun, the sweetness of a Valentine heart full of chocolates, and the top of a rainbow filled with promise."

"Well, what about Jolee?" Brynn asked.

"I love her the whitest," said Mommy. "The white of mini-marshmallows melting in your mouth, angel wings, and fluffy clouds in a blue blue sky. I love Jolee with the softness of a new white towel fresh from the dryer."

"When I think of my girls," Mommy said, " I love you together, the pinkest. I love you very much. And I love being your Mommy." Then they all turned the corner and headed for home. As they strolled up the street, the sun was setting in a blaze of red over the hills. The wind was blowing harder now and Brynn asked for hot cocoa when they got back. "Ok," said Mommy, "would you like me to put marshmallows on top?"

"No," said Brynn, "but can I just eat a few while we read our Kirstin book?"

"Yes my girl," said Mommy.

Jolee squealed with delight as they entered the garage. The walk was over and bedtime had begun.

The End.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Broken

I've had so many people ask me these last few weeks how I'm doing since returning from Honduras with Compassion. Each time my answer has been a simple, "ok." I really have felt fine coming back and returning to my regular routines. But tonight I cracked. As I was driving home from the grocery store, my thoughts started racing. By the time I put away the food and walked upstairs to our home office, I was broken. Broken all over again.

Why is it that my girls get to go to summer camp? Aren't their lives luxurious, happy, and full of Jesus already, without the need to spend hundreds of dollars on camps? Is this all just another form of excess? Couldn't our girls (and most American kids) learn about Jesus in a place without zip lines, big swings, beaches, lakes, wacky games, skits, 3 meals plus snacks per day, and comfy heated cabins? Do we have to lure children to such a fun place to capture their attention...or is God captivating enough? Please remember this is coming from the mind of a camp director who loves her job. Yep, I'm broken.

I spent about four hours today working on name tags for VBS.  Name tags. And that was WITH help. Today the church paid me to cut paper, stick on stickers, laminate, punch holes, and thread yarn. There are children in this world that don't have running water or enough food to eat. Their parents might not make more than $1 per day. I know, I've played with a lot of them. How is this "ok?" Yep, I'm broken.

I can't believe that we still have 8 paint cans sitting on my bathroom floor. My bathroom floor, you know, the one with the junky vinyl floor that is peeling. Why can't we get that ugly outdated bathroom remodeled? Wait. I have a bathroom. Indoors, with A FLOOR. I've been in homes where you can see through the floor. I've been in homes where there really isn't a floor at all. Yep, I'm broken.

Why does my heart hurt so much? Trying to make sense out of everything that just doesn't make sense feels gut-wrenchingly awful. I'm deep in the midst of prep for VBS and Girls Camp, and perhaps this explains my delirious state of mind. These are ministries that serve children; children I love. These are ministries that I believe in and advocate for. But when I think about the millions of children in the majority world struggling to simply survive...I'm broken.

All children deserve to hear that Jesus loves them. All children need to hear what God has in store for them. In the center of 3rd world poverty or the center of my little suburb-Jesus deserves to be known by the children He created.

Alan, my wonderful husband, listened so well tonight. He didn't try to fix me. He is broken too. Thank you God that Alan is broken too. Sitting attentively as I blubbered, he stated that although we don't have the answers to make sense out of the crazy disparity between rich and poor, we do know that giving children the opportunity to hear about Jesus' love for them, no matter where they live is important. I can cling to that. Not everyday is about name tags. And as my friend Vicky so gently reminded me today, what has value is thinking about every child who will receive those name tags. The moment that matters is when we slip it over their head and say, "welcome."

I pray that you and I will welcome our own children to a real, everyday, life with God at the center of every choice, action, reaction, and activity that we do.

I pray that you'll join me in looking outside our homes and beyond our front doors to serve the larger body of Christ. Join me in teaching children about God's love for them. This might be as simple as serving at VBS, volunteering at your child's school, or making it a priority to sponsor a child in another country.

Don't worry God uses broken vessels - just like you and me.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Amazing Faith

Today's sermon at Newberg Friends focused on Luke 7:1-10. This is the story of a humble centurion. He desired Jesus to "say the word" to heal his dying servant. You can read the details for yourself, but what it all boils down to is a healed servant and Jesus standing in amazement at the centurion's faith. As the pastor told the story he let us in on a detail that I can't seem to get out of my head. He said that the only other time that the word "amazed" is used in reference to how Jesus felt, was when Jesus remarked that the people in his own hometown showed an amazing lack of faith.

I'm really good at making everything about me. So I sat in open worship and wrote, "Am I a person that will amaze Jesus with my lack of faith or my abundance of faith?" I'm pretty sure this isn't the response that the pastor was going for this morning. Nope, he emphasized our varying degrees of ability to recognize Jesus' authority as Lord. I'm hoping that I can tie my more self-centered response to this one.

I believe that Jesus is Lord. He is Lord of creation-and that includes me. I want Christ as Lord of my life. I don't want to take his reign too lightly or simplistically. Letting someone else rule over you, have ultimate authority in your decisions, and the freedom to have their way with you is serious business. I'm positive that for how much lip service I give this idea, I still really stink at letting it be the truth. It's an everyday struggle to renounce my own authority and embrace God's. And here's where the faith piece comes in.

Do I have the kind of faith that says, "I believe you God. I believe that everything you want for me, I'm ok with. I believe that if you want someone healed, it will happen. I believe that my kids don't really need me, they just need You. I believe when I am still and listen, really listen, I'll hear your voice."

Do I really trust Him? Do I believe in God's authority over my own? Do I put my faith in Christ? I say yes, Yes, YES. But my life speaks differently. Each and every day I struggle, I worry, I wonder. I don't live in a state of contented bliss. I live with the fear that if I don't figure out a way to do... How will it get done? I worry about my life being an inspiration to my husband, my children, and the community I serve. Am I hoping to get the pat on the back or do I humbly acknowledge that this is His work and not mine. For all you Seinfeld fans, I love holding the, "big salad."

But here's the good news. I'm getting better. I'm getting better because each and everyday I am learning to trust God's authority. I welcome it. I say, "Bring it God! I'm up for the challenge of letting you take every detail of my life and conform my heart to yours. I'm a slow learner, but I hear you've got all eternity to work on me." I'm getting better because little by little I see my faith growing as I step out in it. It's amazing.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Stuff He Doesn't Say

Finding ways to understand, grasp, learn about, and help eliminate poverty can be overwhelming. This morning as I showered I said to myself, "I wish the water would hurry up and get warm." I thought about that spoiled rich American statement and the dozens of other things that my family says on a daily basis that are common to us but probably have never been uttered by Anderson, the child we sponsor through Compassion in Honduras. As I got ready to go to work, more and more phrases came to mind. So many in fact, that for the first time I felt compelled to begin a blog as a place to process and share.

Anderson doesn't say:
  • Hi Mom! 
  • Dad, is the pool filled up yet?
  • Can we go to the movies this weekend?
  • Where's my iPod Touch?
  • Mom, can you get take n' bake pizza tonight?
  • Can we watch Wipeout while we eat dinner?

Anderson doesn't hear:
  • Honey, grab your helmet, we've got to get to your horse lesson.
  • Please get me some ice water from the fridge.
  • I like hearing you practice piano.
  • You're baking cookies...again?
  • I'm using this computer right now to work on my blog, go use the laptop.
  • Goodnight sweetheart, Mommy loves you.

Anderson lives with his aunt and grandparents. His father has been out of the picture for years. Anderson's mom left him and his three other siblings 3 months ago to find work in Mexico. Last month my husband and I had the privilege to visit Anderson in Honduras. We hugged this sweet serious boy, played and prayed with him, and then had to say goodbye. Part of me felt icky for leaving him...just like his real mom and dad have done. But through the gift of sponsorship, I also know that my relationship with this precious 10-year-old is not over. I can't wait to receive his next letter! Maybe he will have drawn me a picture with the colored pencils we gave him. I will continue to write to Anderson and be a voice of compassionate hope.